Impressions of “A Weekend with your Novel” workshop

I attended an excellent workshop at the University of Wisconsin last weekend with the aforementioned title. Designed to give you a jump-start on your work no matter what stage of creation you are at—just starting, ready to publish, or somewhere in between. I thought I’d share some of my impressions, hopefully encouraging you to attend a workshop, conference, or take a class, either online or in person. None of us has all the answers or the best or greatest ideas on how to write a novel or any other piece of writing, and sometimes the best inspiration comes from simply being with like-minded individuals.

First, a great deal of information was packed into a full day. Attendees had three choices in each time slot, with four time slots scheduled during the day, plus optional (for a fee) small group critique sessions. I signed up for the critique session that lasted two hours and started after Saturday’s workshop sessions concluded in late afternoon. Students had an option of signing up for critique groups either Friday evening, Saturday late afternoon, or Sunday morning. Group size was limited to eight, so every submitter got fifteen minutes of input from the other seven critiquers as well as the group leader.

Emphasis was placed on critters making positive comments, which I thought made sense since no one wants to pay fifty dollars for a critique session and only be told what sucks about his/her work. Since I fancy myself as having thick skin, I would have preferred more pointing out of flaws than telling me what was good, but critters also could leave a marked up copy of a writer’s submission with the writer, and perhaps be a bit more blunt in private. I was positive in my verbal comments, but commented in writing the way I normally do with my online critique group. Honest, but polite, and always with the goal of helping the writer see weaknesses and correct them in order to become a better writer.

The workshop sessions were divided into two tracks: One track was geared toward writers in the early stages of writing a novel, perhaps only with an idea or a concept, or who had perhaps started a novel and were now running into some difficulties. The second track was geared toward writers like me who had perhaps finished a manuscript or were close to finishing and were either looking for agents or wanting to get their manuscripts polished in order to start the querying process.

Second, the staff and instructors at Wisconsin’s continuing education writing department run a tight ship and make any of their workshops or conferences a pleasure to attend. Facilities are excellent for learning, information is well-organized. The presenters are all first-rate speakers and teachers who are passionate about helping any writer improve. No question is ignored, instructors are approachable after sessions, adequate time is given to each workshop topic, and topics are relevant to the author experience.

The titles for the beginner track workshops were: Beginnings; Middles; Reads Like a Movie; Increase the Stakes, Decrease the Rejections; and Trouble and Twists: Making Nice Characters Just Naughty Enough.

Advanced track workshops included: The Concept and the Query Letter; Endings; Why am I Getting All These Rejections?; Metaphor for Novelists; Case Study: The World’s Worst First Novel (wish I had been able to attend that one!); Choosing and Capitalizing on the Inciting Incident; and Diamond-Quality Style and Voice.

The price was very reasonable–$145 for early registration, which included four workshops of my choice (no need to choose beforehand, so I let impulse guide me on a few of the sessions, and no need to stick to one track, students could pick and choose), plus an introductory Q&A session. I felt I received high value for that price.

If you are curious and live in the Midwest, check out their link for upcoming programs and classes:

Writing: Creative writing classes, workshops and conferences through UW-Madison Continuing Studies

If you aren’t in the Midwest, find a college, university, community college, or extension service and get some education. Workshops are also a great way to network, commiserate with other struggling writers, and pick up some valuable tips or ideas that will make your writing shine. So get off your butt and expand your writing mind.

My question to you: Have you attended a class, conference, or workshop that had value to you? Tell me about it.

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